27 April 2012

Green Street Trench

Here's detail from a rough sketch map of the area around Guillemont, where the Hammers Battalion suffered again, just a few days after their defence of Delville Wood in Summer 1916.

Most of the experienced senior NCO's were already gone... Many of the original Officer's had been wounded in Delville Wood, more than a hundred 'originals' were in hospitol or a known or unknown grave.

Now, at very short notice, the West Ham Battalion were required to take the village of Guillemont. It didn't go well...

The map was hastily drawn by Captain James Murray Round. He had been born in Witham, Essex and would win the Military Cross for his actions on this day (and previously at Delville Wood)

Ten years after the Great War ended, Lieut-Col Papillon DSO, the West Ham Battalion's first commanding officer, renamed one of the farms on his vast Sussex estate to 'Green Street Farm'...

26 April 2012

The Hammers Battalion Memorial

The unveiling by Sir Trevor Brooking and myself of the memorial plaque dedicated to the service and sacrifices made by the local volunteers of the West Ham Battalion took place on Remembrance Sunday, 8th November 2009 at 10.55am at the Boleyn Ground

Sadly, the original King's Colours weren't able to be paraded, but the unveiling still featured at it's core the Last Post played by the very last line of the old Essex Regiment: Men of C (Essex) Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment who also acted as Honour Party.

The Essex Regiment Association (represented by Colonel Brewer), the Royal British Legion, 2nd Newham ('Busby' Troop) Scouts laid wreaths, as well as many descendants of the Hammers Battalion who had found the website.

A fantastic day was had by all in attendance and Our Lad's are no longer forgotten.


Alan the Badgeman has informed me that the sale of the West Ham Battalion 'Poppy' badges raised over £2,000 for the Royal British Legion and that sales at the Essex Regiment Museum have been equally successful. Many thanks to all of you who bought one!

Pte 21021 John Henry Hassell

John Hassell was born in Plaistow and lived there with his wife Annie at 43 willow Grove, just behind Plaistow Underground Station. The family home was later destroyed by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz of Ww2 and is now a small community park.

He enlisted in the West Ham battalion at Stratford and was a member of D Company and entered France & Flanders as a replacement from the Hammers depot company at a point in early January 1916 (which means he wasn't entitled to the 1915 Star)

John was first wounded in the fighting at Vimy Ridge on the day three huge mines were blown under the German lines and the 17th Middlesex (Footballers) engaged in fierce fighting to hold the craters. The 1st battalion of the Kings Regiment then raided the German trenches and D Coy of the Hammers gave them officially recognised 'valuable assistance'.

A few weeks later and the West Ham Battalion was in action in Delville Wood.

D Coy was giving support to the 2nd battalion of the South Staffs Regiment when they were counter-attacked by Germans. They repulsed these assaults and it was during this period of intense combat that 39 year old John Henry Hassell was again wounded, this time fatally.

We'll never know for sure when or how, as the author of the war diary is unusually limited with information, most likely due to the fact that during this 48hr period the HQ trench and dugouts were demolished by a round of intense and heavy German artillery.

destroyed German trenches, Delville Wood, Sptember 1916

The commanding officer, Lieut-Col Papillon, Lt Len Holthusen the Signals Officer from Forest Gate and the Adjutant 2/Lt Cyril Lyne from Stratford were all buried alive and had to be dug out. None of them quite recovered from this experience.

John Henry Hassell's body was never found.

Overall in the Devil's Wood, the West Ham Battalion lost 39 men killed, 17 were missing, 138 were badly wounded and 20 men were sent mad by the artillery: shell shock...

24 April 2012

Pte 17958 Joe Cooper & 2/Lt Ollett

This gentleman is really the whole inspiration behind this blog and the root of my interest in the West Ham Battalion.

He was born in Rook Street, Limehouse in 1877 and grew up in the very centre of "Hell's Kitchen' at Mary Street. His mother, Kate Cooper was originally Catherine Footman, born 1856/1857 in Limehouse, daughter of Lawrence (age 60) and Johanna Footman (age 44) of St Mary's Street, Poplar. Kate married Thomas William Cooper, a fishmongers salesman of Limehouse, at Stepney in 1877 and soon after Joseph was born.

When Joe married Emily Stormey, aged 21, at Limehouse, his job was as 'carman to a wharfinger'. At some point after the outbreak of the Great War, Joe signed on the line at Stratford and became Private 17958. He was nearly 40 years old with no previous military experience.

Going over to France a day before the rest of the Hammers on the 16th November 1915 with the Advance Party was probably the first time Joe had been abroad. It may even have been the first time he'd been out of London. And here he was with a rifle on his back.

After travelling through France, the West Ham Battalion were in the trenches at Bully Grenay, just by the ' double crassier' at Loos-En-Gohelle, facing the Germans of Lens and Lievin:

Joe is buried in the tranquil British Cemetary at Loos, with a lovely view of the countryside and his headstone is leaning somewhat jauntily to the left.

Before he died he had a few children, one of whom was my nan. She was six years old when he never came back, but she still remembered his battle cry of "Up The Hammers!"

Incredibly, in March 2012, one of Joe's medals came up for sale at Lockdale's, Suffolk's premier militaria auctioneers. They did a fine job, so much so that I wasn't able to afford it and it sold for three or four times the estimate! I had always thought the medals were lost in the Blitz but perhaps it means there's a long-lost cousin out there who now owns a part of Joe. Head over to Lockdale's if you're looking for top quality militaria!

Also killed alongside Joe was Alfred Oscar Ollett, a 21 year old 2/Lt from High Garrett in Essex, shot by a sniper. He was the first West Ham Battalion officer to be killed in action. Today he lies buried in the Bully Grenay cemetery.

There is a small memorial to him at St Mary The Virgin Church in Bocking, Essex placed by his parents Oscar Joseph and Laura Louisa Ollett.